Around 150 New Haven residents gathered in the athletic center of James Hillhouse High School for a gospel music charity concert Sunday evening. All of the event’s proceeds will go toward funding a teen community center and a youth homeless shelter in the Dixwell neighborhood.
Renowned gospel artist Jason Nelson headlined the concert and local gospel artists and church choirs also performed. Many of the residents present on Sunday were optimistic about the opportunity the new community center, called The Escape, represents for city teenagers to engage in positive, substantial activities.
Though event organizers did not know the specific amount raised at the concert, given that nearly 115 people had purchased tickets by the beginning of the event at the cost of $25 for general admission and $50 for VIP seating, it is likely that the event raised several thousand dollars through ticket sales alone.
“It will get kids off the streets and keep young people safe,” Elm City resident Patricia Powell said. “It will give them an outlet.”
According to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer, the city has been developing the idea for The Escape for several years now. Grotheer added that the city government hopes The Escape will be a safe, structured environment featuring programming and recreational opportunities, and with tutors available to help teenagers with schoolwork.
The Situation, proposed youth homeless shelter component to The Escape, is a more recent idea.
City officials have worked closely with community leaders to transform these initiatives from ideas into reality. Pastor Steven Cousin of Dixwell’s Bethel AME Church said the future site of The Escape and The Situation is owned by his church and was previously used for recreational activities such as birthday parties. But, Cousin said, he offered the site to city government when he heard about its plans to create a community center and youth homeless shelter.
Major renovations need to be completed before the space is ready to serve New Haven’s young people. Cousin said city government has footed some of the cost of these renovations, but that more money is needed to finish the project and to run it properly once finished.
Grotheer said the timeline for the projects’ completion depends on the efficacy of continuing fundraising efforts, but added that those organizing the projects hope for a grand opening “soon after the first of the New Year.”
Cousin explained that the building would house both The Escape and The Situation, though they would occupy different spaces within the building, with housing on one side and community spaces on the other. He added that The Situation would specifically target male homeless teens between the ages of 16 and 24, because many individuals in this demographic have no place to go once they leave foster homes.
“We have 400 homeless youths in New Haven, but there’s not enough resources to focus on youth homelessness,” Cousin said. “We want to bridge this gap as best we can, and to bring attention to the problem.”
Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, who serves as co-chair on the Board of Alders’ Youth Committee, has been deeply involved in pushing these projects forward. In an interview with the News last week, Eidelson said she hopes The Escape fills the hole left by the closing of the Q House, a Dixwell community center that shut down in 2003 due to
lack of funding.
“The closing of the Q House was a massive loss for the neighborhood,” Eidelson said. “We want to move toward a vision where young people in every neighborhood feel like they have opportunities around them and places to go.”
The building that will house The Escape and The Situation is located on Goffe Street.